Rottingdean Cricket Club – A Celebration of one of the oldest cricket clubs in England

July 6th to September 15th
Open: Mon to Sat 10am to 4pm Sun 2pm to 4pm. Closed Wed

ADMISSION FREE

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This exhibition represents a small Sussex snapshot of the ‘Great Summer Game’. Our main point of focus is Rottingdean Cricket Club – one of the oldest in the country – and its place in the history of Sussex cricket. We are indebted to Rottingdean CC and Sussex CCC for the loan of items from their collections which go some way to helping us visualize the early days of Sussex cricket and those who were its main protagonists.

The earliest mention of cricket in Rottingdean is on a Lewes poster which announced –

The is to acquaint the Public that on Wednesday June 28th 1758 will be played at Rottingdean near Lewes, a great match at CRICKET for a guinea a man: Newick, Chailey, Lindfield and Hamsey against Lewes, Brighthelmstone and Rottingdean. The wickets to be pitched at 12 o’clock and the game to be played out.

The game took place on Balsdean Flats, in the valley beyond the crest where the old Height Barn once stood.

A year later, on May 14th, 1779, Rottingdean played a match against Brighthelmstone, which was the old name for Brighton. There is unfortunately no record of who won this game, but it is known that the stakes were of £5 a side, and that the Rottingdean team was captained by Steyning Beard, the squire of the village.

Those were the days when cricketers were strong in arm but crude in execution; when the stumps were only two in number (the third was not introduced until 1775); the bat was carved like a butter knife; and the score was kept by notches on a stick.

It seems probable that Rottingdean windmill was originally situated above Mill Laine, near Balsdean, and was transferred to its present site in 1802. If that is
So, then it also seems probable that the Rottingdean cricketers decided to follow it, for they transferred their ground from Balsdean to Beacon Hill at about the same time. For more that a hundred years, until the outbreak of War in 1914, cricket was played on this ancient hill above the village before transferring to its present site off the Falmer Road.

Beacon Hill, with its steep slopes, was not the ideal ground, but it was a situation which once enabled a batsman to make a record of 67 off a single hit. There were no boundaries in those days and the ball, travelling faster and faster down the hill towards the village, was eventually picked up in the Hog Plat. When at last it reached the hands of the wicket-keeper from the relay of fielders who had gone to retrieve it, he threw it with all his force at the stumps, missed them and the ball travelled merrily down the opposite slope to the main Brighton road, whilst the batsman continued to run.

Arthur Ridsdale, the sporting doctor from The Dean, has left us a description of what cricket was like in Rottingdean in the golden days when it was played on Beacon Hill. The is how he described the scene –

“It was John Sladescane, “Civil John” as he was called, landlord of the Plough Inn, who supplied the cricket luncheons on Beacon Hill, or “Bacon Hill” as the villagers called it, to home and visiting teams at 2/6 a head, with a barrel of beer on tap all day.

“The luncheon table, forms, mugs, barrels, etc., were all carted to the top of the hill via the windmill and a booth erected. There was a long table and cloth, with forms by no chairs except for the scorer.

“This booth was covered in canvas with a place at the side where you bought glasses of beer on tap from a barrel, ginger beer, shandygaff, etc. The booth was always counted a boundary, which the villagers called “a bother.” Dandy Hyde, one of the old characters, often tipsy, was an enthusiast and always attended matches: he sometimes stood umpire and his attire for those occasions was a grey square bowler hat, frock coat and light trousers. He was not employed for serious cricket, for when appealed to “How’s that?” he never said “Out” or “Not Out” but would turn to the batsman and say “If ‘ee do it again, I shall give ‘er out!”

Cricket, like all ‘folk-games,’ was originally played by ordinary people, and as late as the 16th and 17th centuries outdoor games were much the same as those found in Europe; games based on a stationary player striking a ball or piece of wood away from his person. References during this period to folk-games like ‘tap-ball’, ‘tip-tap’, ‘stool-ball’ and ‘cat and dog’ indicate early forms of what was later to become known as cricket. Interestingly there is little or no agreement on the origin of the word ‘cricket’!

Patronage by the aristocracy was perhaps the most potent influence on the overall development of the game during the 18th century – a game rarely, if ever, played by ‘gentlemen’. Sussex landowners like the Duke of Richmond at Goodwood and Sir William Gage at Firle organised matches on their estates, employing the best players of the day and gambling sometimes large sums of money on the outcome. At one level the game became a plaything of the estate-owning dilettanti who went to great lengths to out-do their peers on the cricket field. An extreme example, it is said, is of Sir Horatio Mann (died 1814) who once staged a match on which both teams played on horseback! But possibly due to the gambling element in cricket at the time it did lead to the implementation of codified ‘Laws’; laws which came into existence only a few years before the formation in 1758 of ROTTINGDEAN CRICKET CLUB, and some 80 years before the inauguration in 1839 of SUSSEX COUNTY CRICKET CLUB.

The advent of the County Championship in the 1890’s, the Victorian/Edwardian eras and the influence of Public Schools brought cricket to another level; its Laws and practice became part of a national social conscience, particularly for the ruling elite and administrators of the Empire. The game of cricket embodied Englishness… as immortalised in Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem – Vitai Lampada (They pass on the torch of life)… “Play up! Play up! and play the game”.

Today the cricket ground remains a hallowed place where competitive fair-play is enacted throughout the summer months. There are 6,500 + affiliated clubs registered with the ECB in England and Wales. In Sussex alone there are several hundred clubs, league and non-league and, like many other cricket clubs in the county, Rottingdean is able to field three Saturday XI’s, two Sunday XI’s and a midweek XI – plus U10, U11, U12, U13 and U15 sides. Cricket is alive and well in Sussex and Rottingdean!

Oh! See the matches on the Hill,
With all the village keen,
Hark ! how the air is ringing still
With cheers for Rottingdean !